Newly released videos show chaos after New York City subway shooting

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, January 5, 2023
Newly released videos show chaos after NYC subway shooting
A federal judge unsealed exhibits related to the trial of subway shooter Frank James, a day after the 63-year-old pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. Darla Miles has the story.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- A federal judge in Brooklyn unsealed exhibits Wednesday related to the trial of subway shooter Frank James, in response to a legal challenge from a media organization, one day after the 63-year-old pleaded guilty to terrorism charges.

One of the videos unsealed by Judge William F. Kuntz II shows a victim using his cell phone to record the bloody scene inside the N train subway car immediately after James stopped shooting but before the train doors opened.

The video continues as the train pulls into the station and the passengers spill out onto the platform, capturing the agony of the victims. The injured and bleeding can be seen on the floor of the subway car.

In the video, while still on the train, the person recording tells a gunshot victim who is crying out in pain to "stay low" and says that he will help. He repeatedly tries to calm the wounded victim and helps him off the train and onto the platform.

The video shows multiple people laying prone on the subway platform, bleeding and crying out for help. A subway worker then starts yelling for the passengers to board the R train across the platform and asks, "Did anyone see what happened?"

The victim who shot the video responds "yes" and then describes the attack, including that there was an "explosion bomb" with "black smoke" and "popping sound" that came from the end of the train next to a construction worker "with orange clothes on."

Approximately one minute later, as the MTA workers are trying to understand what happened, the video captures the victim yell out again, "Orange! Orange! He was wearing orange!"

In the second video, James is questioned by law enforcement at the NYPD's 9th Precinct in Lower Manhattan shortly after his arrest.

While at the 9th Precinct, an FBI agent and NYPD officer asked the defendant a limited set of questions related to public safety to ensure the defendant had not planned additional imminent attacks or had hidden unsecured firearms or explosives in the city. The public safety interview lasted less than four minutes.

The first thing the agent stated was, "Just right off the bat here, we need to know are there any other weapons? Is anybody else in danger?"

The agent clarified that he meant, "Did you leave the gun somewhere that a little kid can grab and hurt someone?"

In response, James stated that he did not know what the agent was talking about.

The agent then asked, "Are there any more plans to hurt anybody else?" Again, James responded "I don't know what you're talking about."

The agent clarified, "Fireworks, grenades, anything?" to which James responded, "I have no idea what you're talking about at all. See, I was on the train. I was on the train."

The agent then said, "You were on the train?" and James responded, "I was on the train when whatever happened, happened."

James pleaded guilty to all 11 counts in his indictment, including 10 counts of committing a terrorist attack against a mass transit system -- one for each wounded passenger.

James, who had posted online that he was the "Prophet of Doom," admitted in court to pulling the trigger on the Manhattan-bound train as it moved between stations on April 12 -- an assault that prosecutors said was "intended to inflict maximum damage at the height of rush hour."

Dressed as a maintenance worker, James fired a 9mm handgun at least 33 times after setting off a pair of smoke grenades, wounding victims ranging in age from 16 to 60 in the legs, back, buttocks and hand as the train pulled into a station in Sunset Park.

He then fled in the haze and confusion, setting off a 30-hour citywide manhunt that ended when he called the police on himself.

The terrorism charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. The other charge, firing a firearm during a violent crime, has a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. James did not have a plea agreement.

"While I was on the train, I fired a weapon," James said. "My intent was to cause serious bodily injury to the people on the train. Although it was not my intention to cause death, I was fully aware that a death or deaths could occur as a result of my discharging a firearm in such an enclosed space as a subway car."

Previously, he vowed to fight the charges and refused to leave his jail cell to appear at an earlier court hearing, leading Judge Kuntz to issue an order instructing U.S. Marshals to use "all necessary force" to ensure that James showed up to Tuesday's plea hearing.

James did not express remorse but said he plans to do so when he is sentenced, likely in the summer.

"Mr. James has accepted responsibility for his crimes since he turned himself in to law enforcement," James' lawyers, Mia Eisner-Grynberg and Amanda David, said in a statement. "A just sentence in this case will carefully balance the harm he caused with his age, his health, and the Bureau of Prisons' notoriously inadequate medical care."

If the case had gone to trial, prosecutors said evidence would've refuted James' claim that he intended only to injure, not kill. James had been planning the attack for at least four years and made a trial run a few months prior, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Winik said.

James set off the smoke grenades before shooting so that passengers would flee to one side of the subway car, enabling him to shoot them more easily, Winik said. The trajectory of his gunshots showed he was aiming "center mass" for maximum lethality, she said.

The attack upended the ritual of the morning commute, "endangering the lives of countless New Yorkers who rely on the safety of the subway system every day," Winik said.

Before the shooting, James, who is Black, posted dozens of videos online in which he ranted about race, violence and his struggles with mental illness. He decried the treatment of Black people and talked about how he was so frustrated, "I should have gotten a gun and just started shooting."

In one video, he appeared to be in a packed New York City subway car, raising his finger to point out passengers one by one.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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